Why We Suffer: Asceticism and The Search For Inner Harmony

Job 1:12—

“And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord…”

I am not exactly a fanatic of the Bible, but I still find myself captivated by many of its stories, and the meanings they have passed down (I mean, it’s been around for God knows how long, constantly changing and re-interpreted).

For example, the story of Job, who may well be one of the most unluckiest saps to ever keep his faith in an inherently benevolent God. For some reason, during a bet between Satan and God, the former claimed no one would worship or obey him if they weren’t granted his divine grace. The result? Put your most devout follower to the test (taking Jehovah’s protection away from him), even if that means destroying everything and everyone that he had, and driving the subject himself to near death.

Because, y’know, nothing bad ever happens when we mortals lose everything we are attached to.

Above: Divine Agony

Despite this overwhelming cruelty and the spiteful comments of his friends, Job stayed strong and true to his faith (claiming it was just “God’s will”), with Satan finally backing down and God giving Job replacements—plus interest—for everything he had lost. Now while I think this was sadistic, as God rarely ever ‘steps in’ as is, it shows how far evil must go to crush an integrous man, able to shrug off his suffering as God’s will, and I can’t help but relating to Job in moments when our principals and core beliefs are jeopardized by forces beyond our control.

In an age of rapid information and ubiquitous technologies, it is easy to feel trapped and be distracted from our true selves. To embrace simple living, that is, living on the bare necessities and constitutes of mankind —so that I may better myself as a person with moral obligations—is what I strive towards every day. This kind of thinking, whether if your a Bohemian refusing to use a cell phone or in extreme athletics or a starving monk, is known as Asceticism… However, it does come with limits.

Let’s start first by defining what that word. Asceticism is from the Greek word áskesis, which means training, or exercise. There are many differing views and types of this lifestyle choice (for example the Stoics versus the Hindus), but its main principles remain the same: pleasure is ultimately unfulfilling, and the only way to live with true purpose is to self-discipline the mind and body via abstinence from worldly pleasures, such as sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll. Of course, this may do the same thing as Hedonism, leaving one exhausted and empty, and I am a firm believer of the Buddha’s middle-way: everything must come with moderation to prevent suffering. And moderation must come with changes of behavior, awareness, and communication.

This year, I vow to minimalize all toxic substances (and people) from my life, and increase my levels of endurance in productive activities such as running, surfing, meditation, and especially writing.

So, let me know guys and gals: what ways do you search for balance in your life?

On Surfing: A Dance With Waves

Surfboarding is more than a mere water-sport or way of passing leisure time—to me, it is a way of living with the present, an attitude towards simple (almost primal) enjoyment.

Surfing can be, like any form of human exercise, as painful as it is fun, which makes it all the more rewarding when months—and eventually, years—of practice allow you to be able to go beyond your old boundaries, towards more challenging feats of achievement. However easy it may become, being aware of your inner and outer surroundings is still an important task. Even as someone who has done this for over six years (and prior to that, a boogieboarder for ten), I am always at a constant struggle with my limits: my arms will sing with pain while paddling, my eyes fight to see against the glare of the sun, and I strain to keep my body on top my board—especially on windy days—all this happening together whilst fighting against the tumbling waves. Though I’m able to adjust my senses to work through the pain or glare I endure on any given day, it’s not the worst thing. I encounter many negative thoughts out in the water, always based on ever–present concerns: the fear of sharks nearby, the risk of being in another surfer’s way, the gamble of dropping in on another surfer’s wave, a misplaced foot on the takeoff of a bomb¹; the dangers of riptides, and shallow reef sections; the appearance of a freak set on the outside, and the sudden locking up of a foot cramp (always the right foot) during an onrush of sets².

What makes all this pain and fear worth it? Asking why I kiss danger is as simple as why anyone can get addicted to a sport or hard substance or medium of entertainment: the THRILL OF THE MOMENT which it gives, whether that be beneficial or detrimental for said person. To live—or rather, perform to your fullest potential, and go beyond distinction in any thoughts or actions: to become the wave itself, and channel the indifferent forces into your will, your command; a graceful balance of control from both man and nature.

When I talk about Surfing in this fashion, a line comes back to me from Cowboy Bebop (an Anime from the late ’90’s), in a scene where the main character, Spike Spiegel, tells a side character (who wants to learn Kung-fu) what it means to be like “clear water” via guiding excessive force through fluid motion:

Rocco: Water.

Spike: Right. Water can take any form. It drifts without effort one moment, then pounds down in a torrent the very next.

Similarly, Surfing can be viewed as a type of art form, a meditative dance of sorts. For me, there is no other thrill in comparison to riding down the face of a big wave and making it all the way through to another small section, or smaller inside wave. I use the same alertness I have in the water with my daily living, paying attention to details while still seeing the bigger picture, and being ready for the unexpected, patient only when necessary.

In summary, Surfboarding helps to make me a more active person, and to test the depth of my limits….Limits which I hope will continue to expand forward, like the yellow sunrise on a clear, glassy day.

NOTES ON TERMINOLOGY:

  1. A bomb is a set wave that is exceptionally bigger than the rest(sometimes referred to as a “freak seton”) A.K.A. The wave of the day.
  2. Set waves are waves within a swell which are bigger than the rest. A.K.A. The ones that make it worth surfing